AirPlay is Apple's Wi-Fi audio streaming tech. Apple first talked about the still-forthcoming second version - called AirPlay 2 - last summer. But what exactly is AirPlay 2, what will it be able to do and what products will you be able to use it with? We'll explain all right here.
AirPlay 2 was supposed to feature in the Apple HomePod which is being released on 9 February. AirPlay 2 was featured in the earlier beta of the now-released iOS 11.2 but was then removed in beta 5 when the HomePod was delayed.
The new AirPlay 2 will open up a whole world of multi-room streaming capabilities that were previously not available on the iPhone or iPad (Apple said in its HomePod press release that multiroom won't be coming to the device until later in the year), so it's safe to assume we won't get full AirPlay 2 until then.
What is Apple AirPlay 2?
- Update to Apple's long-running AirPlay protocol
- Will feature in the Apple HomePod
Apple AirPlay 2 is the latest version of the AirPlay protocol. AirPlay was first introduced in September 2010, having previously been called AirTunes and available only for audio streaming.
The original AirPlay found its way onto iOS devices in November 2010, so it's getting on a bit. There hasn't been universal device support because of the success and quality of Bluetooth audio as well as the cost to device manufacturers to implement AirPlay in their devices.
The basic premise of AirPlay and AirPlay 2 is a system comprising a sender and a receiver. The sender is something like your MacBook or iPhone, and the receiver is an Apple TV or third-party speaker. All devices need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
AirPlay 2 will introduce some features to the iPhone and iPad, such as controlling multiple speakers, that up until now you were only able to do on the MacBook - Apple has said this will come to the HomePod later in 2018 via a software update.
Which Apple devices will support AirPlay 2?
AirPlay 2 is part of iOS 11 and will roll out as part of a future update. That means all recent iPhone and iPad devices will work. The full list is as follows:
- iPhone X
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 6S
- iPhone 6S Plus
- iPhone 6
- iPhone 6 Plus
- iPhone SE
- iPhone 5S
- 12.9in iPad Pro (first generation)
- 12.9in iPad Pro (second generation)
- 9.7in iPad Pro
- 10.5in iPad Pro
- iPad (fifth generation)
- iPad Air 2
- iPad Air
- iPad mini 4
- iPad mini 3
- iPad mini 2
- iPod touch (6th generation)
- Apple TV 4th Gen
MacBook and MacBook Pro
- MacBook: Late 2009 or later
- iMac/iMac Pro:Late 2009 or later
- MacBook Air: 2010 or later
- MacBook Pro: 2010 or later
- Mac mini: 2010 or later
- Mac Pro: 2010 or later
In other words, anything made more than seven years ago is obsolete and will no longer be supported.
What can Apple AirPlay 2 do?
- Control multiple speakers from the iPhone or iPad
- Multiple users can add songs to one playlist
- Multiroom coming to HomePod later in 2018
Apple AirPlay 2 will add speaker control to the Home app, meaning you will be able to individually control all of your AirPlay speakers from your iPhone for the first time.
This is something that can already be done using a MacBook with iTunes, but iOS devices have lacked the ability. Again, Apple has said that the HomePod won't have multiroom support at launch but it's something it will provide via a software update later in 2018, presumably when AirPlay 2 launches.
Apple didn't confirm during its keynote address which streaming services will support AirPlay 2, and of course only gave demos using Apple Music, but it's highly likely others will work alongside the new technology.
Considering it's more down to the phone sending the audio signals to the speakers, we'd expect any streaming service you have installed on your iPhone to be able to work with AirPlay 2 speakers.
When you play music from your iOS device, you will be able to select which speakers around your home you want it to be sent to and control individual volumes of those speakers.
Something Apple didn't demonstrate was whether you would have the ability to send different songs to different rooms. We would be surprised if you could, though, as the speakers rely on the iPhone to get their music, as opposed to Sonos speakers for example, which are individually connected to the internet, so can obtain different songs from cloud servers.
Another new feature with AirPlay 2, is the ability for multiple users to add songs to one playlist. Say you're at a party, and one person has their iPhone as the music source, playing Apple Music.
Other Apple Music users will be able to send songs they want played to the source iPhone, to save having to connect and reconnect several phones.
What speakers are AirPlay 2 compatible?
- Wide range of AirPlay 2 speakers expected in the near-future
- Some current AirPlay speakers can be upgraded with a software update
AirPlay 2 will work in harmony with Apple's very own HomePod smart home speaker. While it can be used as a sort of Amazon Echo, to answer questions and control smart home products, it has audio at its core.
While the HomePod will use Apple AirPlay 2 to stream from the phone, the majority of its music playback will come from its own direct connection with your Wi-Fi.
But it's not just Apple's speaker that will be compatible, as a rather illustrious list of hi-fi companies that have pledged their support to AirPlay 2. The companies signed up include:
- Bang & Olufsen - more details
- Bowers & Wilkins
- Definitive Technologies
- Libratone - more details
- Sonos - more details
Can current AirPlay products be upgraded to support AirPlay 2?
Yes and no. Some manufacturers, like Naim and Libratone, have confirmed that you'll be able to simply run a software update on the speaker to benefit from the new features, but others will need you to buy a completely new speaker.
Libratone has confirmed that its current range of Zipp and Zipp Mini speakers can be upgraded to meet AirPlay 2 requirements, but a similar thing can't be said for Bowers & Wilkins AirPlay speakers.
The A5, A7 and Zeppelin Air will still be able to work as AirPlay speakers, but they won't be able to reap the full benefits of the new technology.
Apple AirPlay 2 with Apple TV
Provided you have tvOS 11 (which is already available) your Apple TV can send audio to speakers around your home as well, rather than just coming from your iPhone or iPad.
Furthermore, Apple has suggested that whatever speaker is connected to the Apple TV, be it a soundbar or speaker system, that would automatically become a de facto AirPlay 2 speaker. Now that is pretty cool.
Apple AirPlay 2 in HomeKit
AirPlay 2 will also be able to be used with other HomeKit devices to create scenes. Imagine coming home and not only your lights coming on to welcome you but a fanfare of trumpets played through AirPlay 2 supporting speakers.
On a more serious note though, you could use it to alert you of certain things that are happening - like an alarm - or merely that part of your evening routine is to have music played at a certain time automatically without you having to worry about turning it on.
Will the original AirPlay still work?
Yes, don't worry.